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foreva.infiniti
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I hear stories of how he wasn't the best at sleight of hand but he's Houdini. Every magician has to know some sleights and he was one of the greats I just cant see how he would suck at sleights like they say but then again they were there and I wasn't.
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Anatole
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Who exactly are the "they" that say Houdini sucked at card sleights?
If you do a youtube search on Houdini you will find clips of him doing a card fan production. I have also seen clips of him performing the armspread and turnover. On top of that, keep in mind that early in his career he was billed as the "King of Cards." Granted he might not have been as good as Thurston, but then, who was in those days?

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John Cox
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Houdini wasn't bad at sleights or cards. There is film of him doing some pretty complex card work in 1926. It was just something jealous magicians would say about him...then and now.
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Jerry
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My understanding is Thurston was not that great magician to begin with manipulation wise (aside from his card throwing). Eye witness stated he would fire his pistol or point at the illusion. Great showman though.

"They" would be Harry Blackstone Sr., he was quoted "Houdini couldn't wiggle his fingers in central park and not disturb the leafs". This is one example, I will try to recall the others, can not think of the names right now. Oh, wait, another just came to mind, when he did the disappearing elephant, that apparently was weak. Only one third of the audience could see it due to rotten blocking and when it took like a dozen burly men to remove it, nothing was left to doubt. Jarrett (illusionist) said it sucked.

His career took off when he dump the magic aspect and focus on the escapes which he excelled at.
Harry was excellent showman, but he was mostly in vaudeville. His was on top of the bill, but a get on, do your 15 minute act, then take off type of routine.
Towards the end of his life/career he did a full show that had three parts, of which one part was magic. I can't think of the names right now, but "they" said it was considered the weakest.
Harry was escape artist first and a magician second.

I believe Houdini's greatest strength was at self promotion, no one before or now in the entertainment industry has match him.

I saw Siegfried and Roy, they would point, no pistol, but they would strike a pose.

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ed rhodes
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Quote:
On 2013-07-24 16:36, foreva.infiniti wrote:
I hear stories of how he wasn't the best at sleight of hand but he's Houdini. Every magician has to know some sleights and he was one of the greats I just cant see how he would suck at sleights like they say but then again they were there and I wasn't.


It was suggested that he was, at best, medicore at slights. Which makes me wonder, was it just that they didn't like how well he did slights, or was it the fact that he was medicore and insisted that he "recognized no equal in my ability with cards." It was his ego for not acknowledging that he could in fact stand to learn to do those slights better.
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Kevin Connolly
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Houdini in his early career was "The King of Cards". As John mentioned, there is film of Houdini manipulating cards. He also performed the Cups and Balls.

As for Jarrett, you have to take it from a guy who would do hand stands in trees to entertain himself. Today, they have medication for this.

As for Blackstone, on can chalk that up to jealousy. No matter what Blackstone did on stage, he wasn't the showman Houdini was. In the end, Blackstone was a bitter man, who ended up in apartment with a nagging wife who didn't think to much of her husband.
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ed rhodes
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Houdini promoted himself as "The King of Cards" - not quite the same thing. He also told people that as a child, he ran a backyard circus where he hung from his toes and picked up pins with his eyelashes.

I saw footage of his back palm. I don't have the critical ability to tell you whether it was good or not. It was better than I could do.

We've seen several of his contemporaries who have said he wasn't very good. Dai Vernon among them along with others. Short of a massive "anti-Houdini" conspiracy, it could just be that he wasn't as good as he insisted he was.
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steve ehlers
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According to Dai Vernon, Houdini was not a good sleight of hand artist. Houdini was good at promoting.
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Dai Vernon made his name off of Houdini. To his last days he was "The man who fooled Houdini" as he would continually remind people. Another pleasant human being.

Let's try it in reverse. Could anyone one these people just do what Houdini did?
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Anatole
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I don't think any of the people Kevin Connolly refers to would necessarily _want_ to do what Houdini did. Turn the question around and ask "Could Houdini do what Dai Vernon did?" I don't think so. Can you explain why you feel that Vernon made his name off of Houdini? Lay people aren't really familiar with Vernon, so I feel Houdini had no appreciable effect on Vernon's fame as far as the public is concerned. Magicians would more likely say that Vernon made his name off of people like Cardini, Elmsley, Malini, Leipzig, Allen Shaw, etc.

If you read _The Amazing World of John Scarne_, there's an anecdote where Scarne claims to have fooled Houdini with what is essentially a Brainwave effect, whereupon Houdini said to Scarne, "I'm glad Margery didn't do that trick, Johnny" or something to that effect. However, in all the magic history I have read, I think the Brainwave effect was Vernon's idea, published in Annemann's _The Jinx_ using wax instead of r**ghing fl**d.

Granted Houdini had a huge ego. But maybe it's time someone should write a book entitled _The Unmasking of Harry Houdini_. He was great at creating publicity.

Then there's the story about Houdini's vanishing elephant illusion--that two people wheeled the cage onto the stage before the elephant got into it, and six or so people were needed to wheel the cage offstage after the elephant vanished.

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Anatole
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There's an interesting Houdini anecdote at
http://www.houdinitribute.com/anecdotes.html
relating a funny incident that happened when Houdini was performing the needle trick. It was a chance meeting between Houdini and Groucho Marx.

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Kevin Connolly
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In show business, a good part of success is ego. A bitter person's ego would have to detract from others to prove to himself that he contend with those he's compared too.

As for Houdini doing what Vernon could do, he probably could do most of it. Houdini did sleight-of-hand and was proficient with the Cups and Balls. Harry could probably cut silhouettes like Dai with his experience from the tie factory.
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John Cox
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Quote:
Then there's the story about Houdini's vanishing elephant illusion--that two people wheeled the cage onto the stage before the elephant got into it, and six or so people were needed to wheel the cage offstage after the elephant vanished.

Which isn't true. Read Pat Culliton's book on the Vanishing Elephant. The curtains closed on it at the end of the effect. It wasn't wheeled off.

The Vanishing Elephant wasn't that good. But it was a stunt trick that Houdini performed for a short period of time at a special circus themed show at the Hippodrome. I think of it like Copperfield's Statue of Liberty vanish, which also wasn't that good. But it was something to help build the legend.

When discussing Houdini's magic, people love to mention the Elephant Vanish, but they never talk about Metamorphosis. This is a classic of magic that still wows today, and Houdini might well have invented it when he was 17 (Jonathan Pendragon told me he believes Houdini did invent it). That's pretty impressive if you ask me. And there is no denying that Houdini's presentation of the Needles was a knockout. In fact, back in the day, Houdini was as known for his Needles as his escapes.

So, yah, Vernon was better at hand work. But no one swallowed like Houdini. Smile
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ed rhodes
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To answer the question of your title; No, Houdini wasn't that bad. But, by what we've heard from his contemporaries, neither was he that good.
"He was born with the gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad." - Rafael Sabatini, Scaramouche
steve ehlers
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There is no way that Houdini could match Vernon with sleight of hand. Houdini was an escape artist and was outstanding at creating publicity but was in no way what would be considered an expert sleight of hand performer. Vernon was clear that Houdini did an excellent job with the needle trick but regarding cards, Houdini was not very good. If he was good at sleight of hand you would probably find some references of that in various publications.
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You know, who cares whether Houdini was good or bad at sleight of hand? That wasn't his speciality. I've heard that Harry Kellar also wasn't great at sleights. Why is that the measure of a "magician"? Because Dai Vernon says so?
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Hi Steve Ehlers,
Houdini performed a show as a MAGICIAN and as a PART of his show he did escapes.
He also used escapes (and a vanishing elephant) as a publicity-stunt.
The first part of the evening show he was a magician pur sang.
After the break he showed a few "escapes".
After a second break he talked about and showed some things on the matter of spiritualism.
So you could say that he was a magician specializing on escapes.
Search for the review of Arnold Furst, who wrote this a few months before the dead of Houdini.
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John asks: "You know, who cares whether Houdini was good or bad at sleight of hand? That wasn't his speciality."

I think Houdini himself cared whether he was good or bad at sleight of hand because one of his most famous early posters--The King of Kards poster--shows him doing fancy one-hand cuts and the armspread and turnover on both arms simultaneously, so I think it's fair to say that at least early in his career he considered sleight of hand his specialty. Why would he feature card manipulation so prominently on a poster unless he thought it was worth promoting and publicizing as something that sets him apart from other magicians and would bring patrons to the theater?

Of course, that has no effect on the public's perception of Houdini. The general public remembers his escapes and big illusions like the vanishing elephant, walking through a brick wall. In the movie "Shallow Hal" we hear Jack Black say to Gwyneth Paltrow: "Get over here, Houdini!" So it's pretty obvious that in the public's mind Houdini was a performer of magic tricks and illusions as much as--if not more than--daring escapes. The Robert-Houdin book that inspired him to become a magician had very little about escapes in it, so I think it's safe to say that what drew him to magic as a performing art in the first place was traditional magic effects, not the escapes that later became his trademark.

Still, I think it's safe to say that Houdini will forever be linked in the public's mind to magic.

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John Cox
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Quote:
On 2013-08-17 16:19, Anatole wrote:
John asks: "You know, who cares whether Houdini was good or bad at sleight of hand? That wasn't his speciality."

I think Houdini himself cared whether he was good or bad at sleight of hand because one of his most famous early posters--The King of Kards poster--shows him doing fancy one-hand cuts and the armspread and turnover on both arms simultaneously, so I think it's fair to say that at least early in his career he considered sleight of hand his specialty. Why would he feature card manipulation so prominently on a poster unless he thought it was worth promoting and publicizing as something that sets him apart from other magicians and would bring patrons to the theater?

Good point. But know that Houdini made that King of Cards poster before he ever became famous or even played in a proper Vaudeville theater. This poster was used during his days in the dime museums and circuses. He was the "Kind of Cards" because that was a cheap and portable act. His King of Cards poster and billing never made it out of the 1890s.

But you're correct that Houdini obviously cared about his level of skill with cards, etc. He loved traditional magic and aspired to be great at it (and when it came to effects like the Needles, he was!). But then he hit on the Handcuff Act and, well, the rest is history.

What's kind of of poetic (and ironic) is the last known film footage of Houdini shows him at age 52 doing the same moves as we see on that old King of Cards poster. So he cared about it even then.
http://www.wildabouthoudini.com/2010/12/......926.html

My point was, why are we judging Houdini on something that wasn't his specialty or even a major part of his act? Was Dai Vernon a bad magician because he didn't do the Water Torture Cell?

Quote:
On 2013-08-17 16:19, Anatole wrote:
Of course, that has no effect on the public's perception of Houdini. The general public remembers his escapes and big illusions like the vanishing elephant, walking through a brick wall. In the movie "Shallow Hal" we hear Jack Black say to Gwyneth Paltrow: "Get over here, Houdini!" So it's pretty obvious that in the public's mind Houdini was a performer of magic tricks and illusions as much as--if not more than--daring escapes. The Robert-Houdin book that inspired him to become a magician had very little about escapes in it, so I think it's safe to say that what drew him to magic as a performing art in the first place was traditional magic effects, not the escapes that later became his trademark.

Still, I think it's safe to say that Houdini will forever be linked in the public's mind to magic.

Absolutely. Smile
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Anatole
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I think the big difference between Dai Vernon and Houdini is that Dai Vernon never aspired to be recognized as an escape artist or illusionist, so the fact that he never did the Water Torture Cell doesn't in my eyes diminish his status as a magician or his impact on the history of magic. But I'm guessing that Houdini did aspire to be recognized by his peers as a decent card manipulator and magician. The fact that he was President of the S.A.M. and also the owner for a while of Martinka's is also evidence, I think, of his desire to be recognized as a magician as well as an escape artist. But then, I think Houdini was obsessed with stroking his own ego, which is why he aspired to be the first person to fly an airplane in Australia and why he aspired to be a film star. But that's a good thing. I think a super-ego comes with the territory of being a super-star.

However, I do acknowledge that the average person on the street is likely to recognize the name Houdini and associate it with magic, which is hardly the case with Dai Vernon or Cardini or Chung Ling Soo or Thurston.

----- Amado "Sonny" Narvaez
----- Sonny Narvaez
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